ESA’s Cheops satellite observes its first exoplanets

ESA’s Cheops satellite observes its first exoplanetsCheops has successfully completed almost three months of testing. And the satellite has already obtained promising observations of known exoplanet-hosting stars, states the European space agency.

“The in-orbit commissioning phase was an exciting period, and we are pleased we were able to meet all requirements,” says Nicola Rando, Cheops project manager at ESA. “The satellite platform and instrument performed remarkably, and both the Mission and Science Operation Centres supported operations impeccably.”

It was launched in December 2019, and Cheops (the Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, pronounced ‘kay-ops’) first began processing data in January, taking intentionally blurred images of stars (see below). The deliberate defocusing, says ESA, is at the core of the mission’s observing strategy, which improves the measurement precision by spreading the light coming from distant stars over many pixels of its detector.

ESA’s Cheops satellite observes its first exoplanets

Before being declared fully-operational, the 1.5 metre sized satellite had to pass a large number of tests. With the first series of in-flight tests, performed between January and February, the mission experts started analysing the response of the satellite and its the telescope and detector. Proceeding into March, Cheops focused on well-studied stars.


“To measure how well Cheops performs we first needed to observe stars whose properties are well known, stars that are well-behaved – hand-picked to be very stable, with no signs of activity” says Kate Isaak, Cheops project scientist at ESA.

This approach has enabled the teams at ESA, including Airbus Spain who are the prime contractor, to verify that the satellite is as precise and stable as is needed.

So now the science can begin, says the Agency

Image (top): ESA – artists impression of Cheops
Image (bottom): ESA – The Cheops image of star HD 88111, taken during in-orbit commissioning

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